Friday 19 October 2018

GAA set to decommission Rule 21

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

Controversial ban on RUC and British army members to go in light of North reforms.

Rule 21, the most controversial item in the GAA's Official Guide, will be deleted by the Special Congress which has been convened to discuss it on November 17.

The rule - which bans British Army or RUC members from joining the association - is set to go because many counties in Ulster, who had previously dictated opinion nationally, will vote to get rid of it.

And they will be guided by the strong feelings of Ulster Council's own officers, who, the Irish Independent has learned, have privately but strongly recommended that it is time for the contentious ban to go.

The last time the rule came up for discussion in 1998, Ulster Council was strongly opposed to its deletion and extremely vocal about it. The crucial difference this time is that given the reforms of the Northern police force, the top men in Ulster Council believe it is time to make what will admittedly be a sea change and one which will be extremely difficult for some locals to swallow.

Ulster Council has been discussing the issue since early summer and has already advised its counties of its strong recommendation for change in three separate meetings with local county board officers.

Ostensibly all counties throughout the country were asked on Saturday to go back to their club delegates and canvass their feelings over the next fortnight.

But that consultation process had started in Ulster long before last weekend's central council meeting, when it was agreed to set up a Special Congress on the issue in Dublin in mid-November.

There will still be some strong dissension.

Three Armagh clubs have already voted to retain Rule 21 and, given the tragic local history and the sectarian murders of members of GAA clubs within some Ulster counties, it is only to be expected that some of them will vehemently oppose any change.

Certainly Armagh, Tyrone and possibly Fermanagh and Derry, could be expected to vote to retain it.

In St Patrick's Cullyhanna (Armagh) a secret ballot resulted in a substantial majority to retain it. Members of the Oliver Plunkett's GFC, Crossmaglen voted unanimously last Thursday night to retain the rule, but in another Armagh club, Carrickcruppin, it is understood the margin which decided to keep it was just one vote.

However, it is believed that Ulster Council's strong recommendations will guide the majority of their nine counties to vote for deletion.The southern counties usually follow their lead.

Rule 21 of the GAA's Official Guide reads: "Members of the British armed forces or police shall not be eligible for membership of the Association. A member of the Association participating in dances, or similar entertainment, promoted by or under the patronage of such bodies, shall incur suspension of at least three months."

Deletion will require a two-thirds majority from approximately 315 delegates and it is not as straightforward as one vote per county because counties are allocated votes based on the numbers of clubs they have.

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